Last year Roshanak Morrowatian won the Prize of the Nederlandse Dansdagen Maastricht for her plan for Kites. She premiered the resulting interdisciplinary dance show at this year’s edition of the festival, on Saturday 2 October at AINSI, Maastricht. With its powerful imagery and colour scheme, Kites brings across the overwhelming experience that fleeing one life and waiting for the right to begin a new one must be for refugee children.
The young students checking our tickets at the premiere turn out to be former refugees themselves. They have contributed their stories to the creation of Kites, whose first half feels most clearly universally representative of children fleeing from different regions.
Morrowatian starts as a sole bare-footed human hauling an entire life in white cotton bags, sacks and bundles. They are strapped and piled onto her body, front, back, and sides. Slowly, deliberately, she steps along the front of the stage, turns at the corner, and follows the side of the stage to the back wall. The backdrop becomes a film screen, on which three film frames appear along the bottom, showing an arid, sloping landscape passing by. As the agonisingly slow walk continues, the landscape is cut and pasted, the frames growing larger and smaller, until the road and the hills become a blur. Video maker Laisvie Andrea Ochoa Gaevska has found an apt visual translation of the numbing and disorienting fatigue all the small bodies on the move must feel.
The close ties between body and image remain in place during the entire show; once Morrowatian lays down her luggage in one corner, the light (Jean-Lou Caglar) changes to reveal a dim world in muted greys. Morrowatian, who dons an outfit in pale grey (Julina Vanille Bezold), circles the space with her face to the feeble light that lends a Northern European sky its dishwatery hue on most days, flying a piece of silky cloth that looks equally grey against it. It conveys the sense of limbo evoked by the temporary spaces in which refugees and their children are housed, and her upward gaze underlines a longing to see beyond the enclosure that comes with that.
The cloth becomes the bed, the clothes, and the kite with which the children play. Ochoa Gaevska also uses it effectively as a film screen onto which she beams a brief succession of veiled women’s and girl’s faces – they may well be Morrowatian’s and her sister and mother, for at the same time, her father reads out a letter explaining why he and his family have gone on hunger strike. They have been struggling to obtain a permanent status; they have no other weapon than their own bodies and minds.
The letter and images in the second half draw the performance closer to Morrowatian’s own childhood experiences. Yet it doesn’t narrow the scope, for it is precisely such intimate details that immigrations services are so wary of, deeming them ‘too specific’ or ‘too good to be true’ to strengthen the argument for refusing people asylum.
But children can dream. They do it more convincingly than us grownups. Despite the greyness after the journey, the clothes Morrowatian takes from her luggage to dance the curved lines, elegant arms and hands and rolling shoulders of the place she left behind, bathe her little world in a warm saffron yellow.